Beyond “White Coat Hypertension”

Many people have what’s called “White Coat Hypertension” — a condition that occurs when blood pressure readings at medical offices are higher than they are in other settings, such as at home. However, there’s also a condition called “White Coat Syndrome,” which encompasses a host of other medical fears. For a significant minority of the population, fear and anxiety prevents them from getting vital care like mammograms, cholesterol checks, blood work, and other routine medical procedures. To people with White Coat Syndrome, doctor’s offices and hospitals are places where bad things happen. Those who fear medical settings have many sources: being embarrassed about being undressed or being touched, fear of needles, fear of being criticized for unhealthy behavior, and fear of finding out something is actually wrong. Many of those people just want to stick their heads in the sand. There are ways to cope with White Coat Syndrome, and here are just a few:  

  • Identify what worries you. People are often not sure what they’re really anxious about. Identifying what it is will make it easier to manage. 
  • Ask for sedatives or anesthetics. These can be especially helpful for people with needle phobia. 
  • Ask what kind of pain you might feel and how long it will last. Patients are more relaxed if the doctor or nurse prepares them with what they’re going to feel. 
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy. By reframing a patient's state of mind and teaching coping techniques, this form of therapy has been shown to relieve anxiety in as little as 2-3 sessions. 
  • Finally, find a new doctor. If you’re afraid of your doctor, you might want to find a new one. It helps to explain on your first visit that you have a fear of doctors, or perhaps ask around about doctors who take special care with patients who have this kind of fear.